Chew: Flaws in the current education system stunt student achievement

There is an ongoing debate on the policies we need to implement in our educational reform process in order to root out poorly-performing teachers and reward the well-performing ones. Though it is true that the poorly-performing educators are at some fault, there has not been enough focus on the flaws of our education system itself and the students who experience this system.

Perhaps in this process of education reformation we ought not to simply think of ways to fix the broken parts of our education system but of an innovative process to educate unbounded by the confines of a broken system. We cannot fix what was meant to be broken.

Foremost, students should not simply be promoted and grouped based on age but instead on competency. Though there are magnet programs that educate at an accelerated level, I believe a significant majority of children have the potential to be as well educated as their peers. Further, some students may even be more competent than someone a few years older than they, but remain restricted as a result of their age difference. Perhaps our performance ought to be the sole indication of our competency and not factors over which we have no control, like age.

Many of our standardized exams have been diluted to the point where it becomes easy to be considered proficient. If we do not raise our expectations for students, neither will students for themselves. Though we as people are unique in our abilities, I do not believe a significant majority of students have gotten even close to such limitations because the standards have belittled their potentials. Poorly performing students are often perceived to be capable of so little and the students will grow complacent and believe themselves to be incompetent. Similarly, students who perform well with low expectations will believe themselves to be more proficient then they actually are and unaware of the distance they still need to strive in order to reach their full potential.

Moreover, our performance should not be determined mainly by standardized testing. Though standards are necessary and are a fair indication of a person’s current performance, it ought not to be the “be-all and end-all” of a person’s educational competency.

Sir Ken Robinson once said, “Human communities depend upon a diversity of talents, not a singular conception of ability.” We as people are not standard people, but unique individuals equally independent and codependent of one another. Our intelligence and potential to contribute to society ought not to be confounded by our ability or lack thereof to test well on material irrelevant to our latter service to society. Perhaps it is in our best interest to discard our old linear model of educating and to create a new organic model in which educating well is the single priority.

I recently met Jon, a high school freshman in Rochester, who tells me he wants to go to Duke University for college. Jon could not get through the first three questions of the Integrated Algebra Regents exam – not because he could not do it but because he hadn’t been taught. It took less than 30 minutes of explanation for him to understand how to go about solving those few problems and similar ones as well. I believe Jon can get into Duke University but in order for that to happen, we need to rethink our expectations for those like Jon and our way of teaching the many individuals different than he is.